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A Thousand Acres

Released: 1997

Genre: Drama

Runtime: 1 hr 45 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Starring: Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jason Robards, Colin Firth, Keith Carradine, Kevin Anderson, Pat Hingle

Cook's kingdom is a fertile farm that spans 1,000 acres, but the seeds of its destruction are sown when he impulsively decides to distribute it among his three daughters. The apportioned land soon begins to divide the family.

A book with all the right ingredients does not a script make.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 8 years ago

A book with all the right ingredients does not a script make. Nor will the casting of great acting talent a movie make. It takes more than the right raw materials to fashion a compelling film narrative.

Certainly, in the film A THOUSAND ACRES director Jocelyn Moorhouse started off with many blessings. For a retelling of the King Lear story she has Jason Robards as the father, Larry Cook, and as his daughters, Michelle Pfeiffer as Rose, Jessica Lange as Ginny, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Caroline.

The unfocused script by Laura Jones is based on the best selling novel of the same name by Jane Smiley. It has treachery, sexual abuse, sexual infidelity, dysfunctional families, repressed memories, sibling rivalry, storms, hatred, jealousy, you name it. What it lacks is more than sketchy motivation for the characters' actions.

In the story, the father wants to give away his rich farm to his three daughters. When Caroline raises a doubt about whether it is a good idea, her father immediately casts her out of the family and gives the farm to the other two women. Once the father becomes unemployed, he becomes increasingly drunk, bored, and sullen.

The performances by Pfeiffer and Lange are excellent even if the script dulls your interest in the characters they play. They both bob and weave as they talk like little girls who've never quite grown up. Robards gives a sometimes chilling performance as the stern father with a laser-like glare, whose alcoholism rapidly transforms into madness. Only the usually reliable Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a disappointing performance. She makes a strategic error in her portrayal of lawyer Caroline, the youngest of the brood. She underplays the part when her usual fieriness is called for.

"We're not going to be sad," advises Rose to Ginny. "We're going to be angry till we die." Therein lies the problem with the film's presentation. The characters mope around, whining about their woes, but rarely work up anything approaching anger. The story drifts along on a dreamy cloud. And when the two married women, Rose and Ginny, end up having affairs with the same man, neither seems particularly shocked or concerned. Even the show's most dramatic scene, in which the sisters discusstheir sexual abuse as children, is strangely ineffectual. Perhaps because of the story's plodding pace and large plot holes, this potentially powerful scene leaves one dispassionate when it should have been emotionally draining. The studio wasted money by hiring high quality actors, Keith Carradine, Kevin Anderson, and Colin Firth, to play the parts of the husbands and the lover. Each character remains little more than an outline so that, when the wives have affairs, the audience does not become emotionally involved.

The ending has one character making a totally unbelievable decision and another giving us a tear-jerker. Both left me unmoved.

A THOUSAND ACRES runs 1:45. It is rated R for nudity, profanity, and mature themes. It would be fine for mature teenagers. Although the acting by Pfeiffer and Lange is uniformly fine, the rest of the movie isn't so I give it thumbs down and **.